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Knights v Eels preview

Knights v Eels
Hunter Stadium
Saturday, 3pm

It's official: the Newcastle Knights hate Queensland. While they surely enjoy the weather, Dreamworld and the many other delights the state has to offer, they certainly dislike playing there or playing teams based north of the border. 

Newcastle haven't been travelling all that bad in the past two months having won six of their past nine games but their three losses have come against Brisbane, the Titans and South Sydney. You're probably thinking: what do South Sydney have to do with Queensland? That particular contest was played in Cairns.

Thankfully for Newcastle and their supporters, Parramatta has nothing to do with the Sunshine State. However they are in form and are fresh off beating the ladder-leading Sea Eagles as they look to push forward with their finals ambitions.

With the Eels currently sitting at eighth on 28 points, a slip-up against the Knights will see them fall out of the top eight leading into the final round with either Brisbane or St George Illawarra set to jump ahead of them after Friday night's game, and the Warriors taking on a weakened Titans outfit across the ditch.

Keeping the ball rolling on their run to the finals, Parramatta have named an unchanged line-up from last weekend's victory with Pauli Pauli added at 18th man.

Newcastle will welcome back Timana Tahu to first grade for the first time since Round 9, 2013 for Joe Tapine. Jarrod Mullen also returns for Michael Dobson while Clydsdale and Waddell swap between the bench and the starting team.

Watch Out Knights: Jarryd Hayne can't take all the plaudits when his Eels teammates are performing solidly as well. Parramatta coach Brad Arthur labelled hooker Isaac De Gois's performance the best of his career after earning Man of the Match honours in Round 24. Who can blame Arthur? The wily veteran is averaging 40.4 tackles a game since joining the club midway through the year. Others like Ken Edwards (23 tackles and 65.6 metres per game) and David Gower (20.8 tackles and 78.4 metres) are holding the fort strongly as well.

Watch Out Eels: With Jeremy Smith and Kade Snowden rubbed out for the remainder of the season after accepting their ASADA bans, it is up to David Fa'alogo and Adam Cuthbertson to lift their respective games. Fa'alogo is travelling well for a veteran with his 20.4 tackles and 78.1 metres per game, doing his role at the club justice but he’ll certainly need to improve over the remaining fortnight if his team are to be any hope. Cuthbertson should prove a worthy replacement for Smith as well. When Smith was injured earlier in the season, Cuthbertson stepped in for a three game stint at lock where he averaged 131.6 metres and 35.3 tackles a game.

Plays To Watch: Joey Leilua has been the one constant in the Newcastle backline this season. While he is often susceptible to dropping the ball, Leilua has recorded nine tries and 11 try assists this season from Newcastle sending it out wide. The last time they played Parramatta, Newcastle scored their first try by moving it wide with Leilua putting the icing on the cake for winger Akuila Uate. While his three teammates involved in the shift (Uate, Snowden and Darius Boyd) won’t be featuring this weekend, the structures are in place for the Knights to benefit from in their remaining two games.

Is there anything better in rugby league than a sneaky play down the short side? Eels' hooker De Gois reaffirmed this when he fooled everyone but Edwards, when he darted down a small corridor before passing it to his back-rower who barnstormed his way over the line for his maiden NRL try. 

Where It Will Be Won: Last weekend, Newcastle completed only two-thirds of their sets forcing themselves into making 346 tackles – 71 tackles (or 12 more Broncos attacking sets) than their opponents – who consequently thrashed them. The Eels fared much better considering they completed 79 per cent of their sets against Manly. Holding the ball is one thing but it comes a lot easier when defence isn't exhausting your energy. With the desperate Eels looking for nothing but clinical performances heading into a possible finals series these aspects will be drilled into them by coach Brad Arthur, with Newcastle thinking similarly as they attempt to close out the season with their heads held high.
 
The History: Played 45; Knights 25, Eels 19, Draw 1. Unlike many other aspects, Newcastle has history on their side when it comes to taking on the Eels. Including their last start 16-10 win in Round 16, the Knights have won their past six against the Eels with four of these fixtures occurring at Hunter Stadium. In fact, Parramatta has only won six times in Newcastle from 22 attempts.

What Are The Odds: The Eels ($1.65) are the flavour of the month with Sportsbet punters, and they’ve piled on ten times the dollars on Parramatta to continue Newcastle’s ($2.25) misery. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.

Match Officials: Referee – Adam Devcich; Assistant Referee – Grant Atkins; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid & Dave Ryan; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton & Steve Folkes.

Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live, 3pm.

The Way We See It: Newcastle have proven time and time again that they are more than capable of beating anyone on their day. Just ask the Warriors, Roosters and Melbourne. However with the Eels teetering on the edge of finals football, desperation should rear its head if they want to play past the first week of September. Both teams have conceded 20 points more than they have scored in their opening 10 minutes of each game this season, meaning the opening exchanges will prove most important.  Parramatta by 2 points – Newcastle won't let it happen easily, though.

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